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Carmody v. Board of Trustees of University of Illinois

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

March 28, 2014

KEVIN R. CARMODY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, et al., Defendants-Appellees

Argued December 3, 2013

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 12-CV-2249 -- Michael P. McCuskey, Judge.

For Kevin R. Carmody, Plaintiff - Appellant: Michael John Tague, Flynn, Palmer, Tague, Lyke & Jacobson, Champaign, IL.

For Board of Trustees of The University of Illinois, Ilesanmi Adesida, Sharon Reynolds, Joseph Bohn, Deborah S. Stone, Defendants - Appellees: William James Brinkmann, Thomas, Mamer & Haughey Llp, Champaign, IL.

Before POSNER, MANION, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 471

Hamilton, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Kevin Carmody worked for the University of Illinois for 25 years until he was fired for reasons involving a security breach of the university's email system. After unsuccessfully appealing his discharge, Carmody filed this suit against the university's board of trustees and several university officials claiming that they violated his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and under an Illinois statute designed to protect whistle-blowers. The district court dismissed Carmody's complaint with prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Carmody has appealed.

We review de novo a district court's grant of a motion to dismiss, construing the complaint in the plaintiff's favor. Sung Park v. Indiana Univ. School of Dentistry, 692 F.3d 828, 830 (7th Cir. 2012). While we take the facts alleged in the complaint to be true, we also consider attached exhibits and take into account any contradictions. Phillips v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 714 F.3d 1017, 1019-20 (7th Cir. 2013). For a case at the pleading stage, we have here an unusually detailed record of events because the complaint includes numerous exhibits regarding Carmody's termination.

We conclude that the district court's dismissal was premature with respect to one aspect of Carmody's due process claim: that he was not given an adequate pre-termination hearing. Carmody has plausibly alleged that his pre-termination opportunity to be heard was meaningless because he could not answer the university's crucial questions or respond to its accusations without violating a state court order that required him not to discuss the key subject. The university acted to fire Carmody

Page 472

on the same day the state court modified its order to allow him to respond to the charges, so the modification came too late to help him. Also, Carmody has alleged that he was actually fired based in part on a charge for which he had no prior notice and opportunity to be heard. We therefore reverse this one portion of the district court's judgment and remand the case for further proceedings. We affirm the judgment in all other respects.

I. Sufficiency of the Pre-Termination Process

A. Factual Allegations

For the last 22 years of Carmody's employment with the University of Illinois, he was manager of systems services in the Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering. According to Carmody's complaint and numerous attached exhibits, the university's official reasons for firing him involved a security breach of the university's email system, a breach connected to a state court lawsuit Carmody was then pursuing against a university professor, David Goldberg.

Carmody says that while his lawsuit against Professor Goldberg was pending, he discovered several printed emails in the newspaper box outside his home. The emails contradicted an affidavit that Professor Goldberg's defense attorney had filed in the case, an affidavit by another professor, Deborah Thurston. Carmody gave the emails to his lawyer, who then filed a motion of some kind to which he attached the emails, designating them " Group Exhibit A." Carmody denies knowing how the emails came to be in his newspaper box. (Carmody's claim in his lawsuit against Goldberg was apparently that the professor had assaulted him, though the nature of the claim is irrelevant to Carmody's firing and the case before us. Carmody's suit against Goldberg has since been dismissed.)

The emails Carmody found were between university employees, including Professor Thurston, and all of them concerned Professor Goldberg. According to Carmody's federal complaint, the state court judge ordered as follows regarding the emails:

[T]he Court is going to order that Group Exhibit A [the Thurston emails] be placed under seal pending litigation of any further claims of privilege or relevance, and the Court is further going to enter a protective order on the parties that there is to be no secondary dissemination of any of the contents of Group Exhibit A as the court has described them, beyond the respective litigation files of the three lawyers here .

(Emphasis added.) The three lawyers were Carmody's lawyer, Goldberg's lawyer, and a lawyer for Thurston. Both professors' lawyers were provided by the university.

Carmody then received a pre-termination letter dated July 19, 2010. It explained that he was being investigated for misconduct, that he was suspended with pay immediately, and that if the charges spelled out in the letter were substantiated, they could result in discipline up to and including immediate termination of employment. As far as the substance of the charges went, the letter said:

It is alleged that you attempted to use the substance of the email messages for non-University related purposes and without permission. Furthermore, there are open questions regarding how you came to be in possession of these documents, specifically whether you obtained them through improper access.

The July 19 letter went on to say that Carmody would have an opportunity to

Page 473

respond to the charges at a meeting later that month.

On July 28th, university officials held a pre-termination meeting with Carmody, who brought his lawyer, Robert Kirchner. At that meeting, Carmody alleges, the university officials said they intended to question him about the contents of the emails in Group Exhibit A. Keeping in mind that we are reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, we must give Carmody the benefit of conflicting information and allegations about what happened in the meeting. We therefore assume that university officials intended to question Carmody about the contents of the ...


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